Saturday, March 17, 2012

Around the AL Central: Cleveland Indians

Important if true: Cleveland manager Manny Acta
this week described second baseman Jason Kipnis as a
cross between Dustin Pedroia and Chase Utley.
The 2011 Indians had pretty low expectations, but they were sensational for the first half of the season before tailing off and finishing a notch below .500.

It was a young team, and the conventional expectation is that a young team that suddenly emerges will continue to grow into the role of contender. And sometimes, as with the Twins in the early years of the previous decade, that does happen.

More frequently, it's a case of two steps forward, one step back. Which is rather what I expect is going to happen for the Tribe this year.

There are aspects of the Cleveland team that can go better in 2012 than they did in 2011. Shin-Soo Choo is better than he played last year. Carlos Santana's a better hitter than he showed last year. Grady Sizemore keeps on getting injured.

There were also aspects of the Cleveland team in 2011 that, quite frankly, seem rather flukey. Asdrubal Cabrera, as a primary example. Is the shortstop really a 25-homer guy? He's never shown power to be part of his skill set before.

Much of the lineup has question marks like that, or worse. Everybody seems to be either trying to bounce back from something or to be trying to establish that they really are that good.

Same thing with the starting rotation, which may be the key to the Indians' hopes.. We can name the Indians starters -- Justin Masterson, Ubaldo Jimenez, Josh Tomlin, Derek Lowe, Kevin Slowey -- but none of them have a current established level of performance that they can be comfortable about.

Masterson, for example. Wish the Twins had him. But his ERA ballooned about 1.3 runs in the second half last season. Tomlin spent the first half doing a great Brad Radke impersonation, then finished the year on the shelf.  Lowe pretty clearly ain't what he used to be, and Jimenez had an ERA above 5 after coming over from Colorado.

Then there's the whole "pitcher to be named" Fausto Carmona fiasco, in which a starter who has been a centerpiece of the Cleveland rotation for five years turned out to be somebody else entirely. Roberto Hernandez Heredia is not going to readily get a visa after this false identity scam.

Which is why Slowey is getting a shot with the Tribe. The Twins castaway, a fly ball pitcher to the extreme, at least gives Cleveland a different look. Masterson and Lowe throw almost nothing but hard sinkers; that's also Jimenez's best pitch; that was also Carmona/Heredia 's bread and butter.

Cleveland went 80-82 last year with a set of stats that suggest a 75-win team. They might get better; I think they'll regress some.

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